Annual Cesar Chavez march draws hundreds to support immigrants, healthcare and unions

By Gina Quinn

With signs and banners promoting immigration rights, access to health care and union power, hundreds of activists came together in late March for the 17th annual Cesar Chavez march.

Protest against the immigration policies of President Donald Trump took center stage, with many speakers calling for an end to plans to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Labor Council executive board officer Dean Murakami spoke to the crowd before the march, focusing on the need to organize and be active under the Trump administration.

“Muslim Americans have been beaten, shot, killed; their businesses have been fire bombed, vandalized. What do we get from this White House while all this is happening? Nothing,” he said. “African Americans, they are still being arrested, beaten, killed—and what do we get from this White House? Nothing. ICE raids in California…homeland security targeting immigrants as they’re picking up their children from elementary school, arresting them when they are with their kids. That is the lowest of the low. And what do we get from this White House? Nothing.

All of this breeds hostility. We are supposed to be better than this. We must be better than this. We need to fight to be better than this … That’s what the resistance is all about—to make sure America works for everybody in this country, not just for the corporations and the rich.”

Many in the crowd of hundreds echoed those sentiments.

“We are out here today because we want to make sure that in America, all of our neighbors are safe from a state of oppression; to make sure that immigration and customs enforcement are not harassing people in our community; to make sure all workers have the kind of life that they want to live, prosperously and safely, so that we have a rising tide that can lift up all workers; and to make sure that everybody has equal rights,” said Jeff Otter, Labor Council delegate for UAW 5810.

In keeping with the spirit of Chavez and the farmworkers movement, many also focused on immigration rights and the crackdowns that have spread fear throughout immigrant communities, especially those from Latin America and Mexico.

“We are here to stand up to all the injustices happening to immigrant communities right now, to workers, and attacks on our union,” said Rosario Ramirez of SEIU-USWW. “We want immigration reform and for this country to see the value in the art, music and labor that immigrants contribute to this country every day. All that immigrants contribute should be valued and we should stop seeing them as outsiders. We are here for unions, that they are all respected and valued. Our goal is to fight for all workers, whether they are union or not…and to keep our public officials accountable to the promises they made to us. We have a message to the President: We are here to organize and fight against the threat he is making to us and to the country. We organize to build powerful women, children, workers and people of color.”

For marcher Maria Mendoza, that call for support of immigrant communities struck a personal note.

“I worked in the fields and so did my parents, so I know what that life is like. I’m here today to show my support for farm workers,” she said.

Janet Rodriguez of SEIU 1000 gave a union perspective on the event.

“I’m marching today to show that there is strong solidarity for labor rights and immigration rights,” she said.

Others in attendance focused on healthcare and the need to protect access for all Americans. The day before the march, Republicans in Washington, D.C. pulled a proposal for Trumpcare after it failed to garner enough Congressional support. The failure of the Trump administration to pass its repeal of the Affordable Care Act was a victory for many who rely on it to purchase insurance.

“The California Nurses Association is here to recognize Cesar Chavez and all the positive and necessary changes he accomplished for Americans,” said Carol Kinser, a member of California Nurses Association and a nurse for 28 years. “We believe health care is a human right that should be available to all people.”

As they do every year, Aztec dancers in traditional attire kicked off the day before leading marchers through the Southside Park neighborhood. The event on March 25 was organized by SEIU Local 1000, Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, SEIU Local 1021, Union Civica Primero de Mayo, LCLAA, Unite Here Local 49, Brown Berets de SacraAztlan, PSL Sacramento and others.

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